By on December 21, 2020

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI like to search for junkyard vehicles with exceptionally high final odometer readings, a task made more difficult by the fact that just about every manufacturer besides Volvo and Mercedes-Benz used five-digit odometers well into the 1980s. Even in the middle 1980s, most cars weren’t really expected to hit the 100,000-mile mark … unless they were Mercedes-Benzes with diesel engines, in which case their owners expected them to make it to 300,000 miles. Here’s an oil-fueled W123 in Colorado that exceeded even that expectation.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, speedometer - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYes, that’s 411,448 miles showing on the clock. I’ve seen discarded Mercedes-Benzes that beat this figure (for example, this gas-engined W201 with 601,173 miles, this diesel W126 with 572,139 miles, and this diesel W126 with 535,971 miles), and I’ll bet many of their brethren with missing instrument clusters and/or from the five-digit-odometer 1960s) bested those numbers. I find plenty of 300k+ Hondas and Toyotas, of course, and even this surprising 363,033-mile Olds Calais, but the 400,000-Mile Junkyard Club is a very exclusive one. I’ve seen this Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon with 493,549 miles, this second-gen Honda Accord with 411,794 miles, and this 411,344-mile Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon in recent years, plus a 1989 Pontiac LeMans that belongs in a junkyard yet will probably hit the 400k mark on the race track in the next couple of years.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, Wikipedia page - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars1985 was the last model year for the legendary W123a, a fact I was able to look up in the junkyard without even going online. This 300D’s final owner printed out the entire English Wikipedia page for the W123 and kept it in the car. Was this to wave at prospective buyers intimidated by the astronomical odometer figure, or just to provide documentation for the driver to wave around when bragging to passengers about their amazingly reliable car? We’ll never know.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, owner's manual - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAs is the case with most extreme-high-mile cars, this one had a lifetime of devoted maintenance and looked pretty clean even in the junkyard. All the factory-issue manuals were still in the glovebox after 35 years.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, keys - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe keys were still in it when it reached this place, which— most of the time— means that the car was a dealership trade-in that no auction buyers would touch after its former owner left the lot in a new ride. A decades-old non-truck with absurdly high miles and a diesel engine won’t get much interest from used-car shoppers these days, particularly in AWD-crazed Colorado. Next stop, junkyard!

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, seat upholstery - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe interior looks nice, and the indestructible MB-Tex upholstery still thinks it’s February of 1985, when this car rolled off the assembly line in West Germany.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, rust repair - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThere’s some body-filler-and-paint rust repair in the typical corrosion spots, not as bad as some of the abominations I’ve seen but presumably done after the car depreciated to a very low level in our current century.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, Autowerkes badge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSince it appears that this car lived in New England at some point, that rust doesn’t seem so bad.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHere it is, the nearly immortal OM617 five-cylinder turbodiesel engine. This one was rated at 125 horsepower and 181 pound-feet when new, and I’ll bet it still worked fine when the forklift dropped this car into its final parking space. Sadly, it never had a chance to do any road-racing, a task at which the OM617 excels.

1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 300D in Denver junkyard, emblem - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHow much would you have paid for this car in running, driving condition? We’ll consider that the Question of the Day.

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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel with 411,448 miles...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    RIP.
    Good job car.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    RIP. even the hood ornament made it.

    This car still deserved better—like being sold to a neighbor for $100 or donated to a high school car club.

    my hunch is that owner passed away or moved to a care home and family just decided to get rid of the car.

    Owner earned lots of good karma.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Why aren’t all car seats made out of MB-Tex? Seems like a problem that was solved a long time ago, and yet you still see luxury cars with shredded seats all over Craigslist. Including Benzes.

    • 0 avatar
      FAHRVERGNUGEN

      Mfrs need planned obsolescence, not forever materials.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      1. People have other priorities besides longevity.

      2. Vinyl has its downsides.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      At the end of the day MB-Tex is still pleather (vinyl) and not the real stuff. A good pleather, but pleather none the less with all the advantages and disadvantages that go along with it.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        I recall shopping for a new car in 1980 or 81. The “experts” (gotta love ’em) were predicting astronomically priced fuel for the foreseeable future. So, being the smart guy that I used to be, me and the missus went shopping for a diesel-powered German. It was in January. She sat in a 240D that had been outside on the lot and commented that the “seats were too hard.” As, indeed they were, especially that thick MB-Tex. The Audi had very nice, comfy cloth seats, so it got the nod and our money. Of course, the Audi was, from the beginning an “endless money pit” of repairs; and we didn’t keep it very long. The 240D was an opportunity missed. We’d probably still have it today.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          Having driven a 300D for over a decade (2000-2012 or so), I can’t imagine actually driving a 240D for years, let alone 40 years.

          The 300D was already painfully slow, and the 240D is worse.

          (Also, mine had some rips in the MB-Tex, caused by the rubberized horsehair failing and disintegrating, letting the covering get stressed in unapproved ways.

          I repadded the driver’s seat, but it was already torn when I got the car.)

  • avatar
    jmo

    A quick googling says this was $32,190 when it was new. That’s $79,400 today. And even at that price the owner certainly got his money’s worth.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      I googled up a window sticker and the ’85 300D started at 40. For comparison a Suburban was 12, a Grand Wagoneer was 20, a Fleetwood was 21, the median US household income was 23 and the median US house was 80.

      An 80K car in 2020 is only a little insane. This was a lot insane.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    My family had one of these back in the day – it was an amazing highway cruiser. But at that time, diesel wasn’t always available at regular gas stations, so you ended up at truck stops, fueling the Benzo right next to a big rig – an interesting experience, to say the least.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      In the 70’s well into the 80’s over half of the Mercedes Benz cars sold here in the states were diesels. My dad had a Chevette diesel with the Isuzu 1.8L and my mom had an I-Mark 4 door with the same motor. From 88-90 I owned a 1980 Oldsmobile Toronado diesel. Most local gas stations off of interstates had diesel pumps but there were a fair number of locals that didn’t bother.

  • avatar
    darisgin

    With regard to your “how much would you pay”: I went through a period in my early 20s where I would pay $300 to $500 for a car, then drive it for ~50k (the math works out well). In inflation-adjusted dollars, then, I’d pay probably up to $900 dollars, assuming the motor still started.

    I paid $400 for a ’79 T-bird that ran *beeeYOOOtifully* for the 50K miles I had it (before what was to become an ex-girlfriend never gave it back). I bought some kind of GM truck (I forget make/year) for $300 and drove that up and down the East Coast, racking up 50k miles before selling it for $750 (and THAT guy got a bargain, too). The truck was a standard (4 speed?) that, in stop and go, would tire out your thigh from engaging/disengaging the clutch.

    The ’73 Ford Pinto I got for $300 only made it to 20K before I, uh, forgot to pick it up from a parking lot in the next town over.

    On most of these I did my own repairs/maintenance (those were the days!), but the Pinto–a death trap in more ways than exploding gas tanks–was a real goner.

    On one trip from Upstate NY to Washington DC, the muffler fell off, pipe forward (meaning sparkety spark sparks). I pulled over and kicked until it broke off, then kept on going.

    One of my $500 finds dropped an driveshaft on a dirt road. By some miracle, the local, backwoods garage had one laying around and sold it to me for whatever bills I had on me at the time. I carried it on my shoulder the whatever miles back to my car and installed it myself.

    Good times!

  • avatar
    darisgin

    Looking at some of the rusty abominations in the links, I was reminded of my ’73 Ford Gran Torino station wagon ($300 from a buddy), which failed NH state inspection. I had to cover over the Fred Flintstone foot holes (discovered under the floor mats by a terrified passenger) and the completely *gone* rear wheel wells with fiberglass sheets. I covered holes in the body (gunshots? who knows!) with duct tape. I traded my baldies for some cold-process retreads (imagine!).

    On reinspection, the guy didn’t even look at the car, just passed it and sent me on my way.

    I used to carry my toolbox under the hood in front of the radiator, and kept the rear seats down to fit a mattress I “liberated” from a college dorm and visited many a ski area (and other, uh, mattress-y activities).

    Day-um life is dull these days.

  • avatar
    CadiDrvr

    Memories…..

    These cars are damn near indestructible! The things we did on/in/to these cars in high school….
    In middle school, in the early 80’s,everyone’s parents in my area were trading their Cadillacs for the Benzs, evenly split between 300Ds and 300SDs. By high school, we started receiving them as hand-me-downs, and the fun began! One of my favorite memories is during winter, seeing all the extension cords running up to the buildings from the parking lots to keep the diesel engines warm. There’s also nothing like the “clatter” of this Mercedes diesel at idle, nor the gentle “rocking” motion sitting in the car.
    Not being as car savvy then, I was surprised how “crude” they were, compared to my hand-me-down ’84 Fleetwood Brougham, and couldn’t understand why anyone would pay twice the price of a Cadillac to get less car. But my Cadillac withstood all the abuse heaped on it, although spills were alot harder to clean off the velour upholstery compared to the MB-Tex. BUT, could see the writing on the wall, as by the late 80’s, and graduation, many of the “coolest” kids were getting new cars, and instead of sports cars or other high end euro cars, convinced their parents to get them S-10 Blazers/S-15 Jimmys, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      SatelliteView

      Could you please explain why in the late 80s cool kids in America wanted S-10/s-15 instead of Euro cars?

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Maybe they, despite being cool and in a relatively rich area, had a budget?

        An S-10 Blazer is a LOT cheaper than, say, a new Mercedes in 1989.

        (The internet tells me base sticker on an S-10 Blazer in ’89 was $13225, in 4WD.

        The cheapest Benz, the 190E, started at TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS more.)

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I remember my first trip to Europe as a teenager and how blown away I was with all the Merc diesel taxicabs everywhere with 200-300K miles (converted from kilometers). Most with beautiful leather interiors. MB sure knew how to build a car back in the day, not sure if it’s still true :(

  • avatar
    SatelliteView

    Could you please explain why in the late 80s cool kids in America wanted S-10/s-15 instead of Euro cars?

  • avatar
    bpscarguy

    A friend in high school had one of these. Her family all drove Benzes and this was a hand me down. That diesel made such a racket but that thing was SOLID. She was Tboned in it and it was totaled. But she walked away from it. That thing was a beast and it saved her life. Makes me think when my kids are old enough to drive, they are getting an old MB tank.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      ” Makes me think when my kids are old enough to drive, they are getting an old MB tank.”

      An modern day Kia Rio would tear through an old Mercedes like a hot knife through butter. Not that the Mercedes wasn’t very well built for its time. It’s just that a lot of progress has been made.

      _https:_//www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBDyeWofcLY

      remove underscores

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    It still surprises me that I actually purchased one of these from its original owner and drove it [my daily driver] for about a year. (Same model year, silver exterior, blue interior.) Only European vehicle I’ve ever had (and the only diesel). Best door closing ‘clunk’ EVER.

    [Don’t try your ‘dent removal’ kit on these body panels – you will break the tool. LOL.]

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I never got the appeal of these, you can get a Camry and get similar miles and FWD, or a panther if you prefer RWD, both cars handle, go, and stop better.

    Nevermind that parts will be significantly cheaper and won’t require a specialist with a PHD in German engineerionology.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “both cars handle, go, and stop better.”

      Couldn’t you say that about nearly any classic car though? The W123 was in production from ’76-’86. The Camry didn’t become a thing with over 100hp until ’87 for the US market and The Panther didn’t really become *The Panther* until the early 90s when the 4R70W was used.

      For a daily driver in 2020 I wouldn’t recommend this Mercedes but for a hobby car I can definitely see the appeal. It isn’t that expensive to buy, there’s a big knowledgebase online, it isn’t the size of an aircraft carrier, and it’s a good example of its era.

  • avatar
    Dan

    I get the hobbyist appeal of the forever beater that once cost half as much as the average house but I can’t for the life of me see why the first guy paid half a house for it.

    This taxi cost as much as three Cimarrons stacked on top of each other.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Its like buying a Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco, or Land Rover in 2020. Yea you’re getting ripped off on a mediocre product, but you can brag to everyone that you own a status symbol!

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Mercedes as the textbook Veblen good, sure, but if you aren’t a taxi company why on earth would you buy the 18 second to 60 diesel edition?

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          The guy who purchased ‘my’ old 300D new in 1985 drove it until he sold it to me in ~2002. From his perspective, maybe not such a bad deal. (Figure some maintenance, nothing major major.)

          Which 1985 GM sedan could he have done that with? Which 1985 Toyota would have been a plausible substitute [from his perspective] for the 300D in 1985?

          • 0 avatar
            Dan

            The best car to drive for the next 20 years at a time when cars were A, pretty terrible, and B, improving rapidly doesn’t lend itself to a good answer. GM didn’t make anything to last half that long. Toyota made crampy gutless things that you wouldn’t want to drive even new.

            The least bad and most obvious answer would be the 380SE with the retail grade powertrain. I don’t know how long those motors lasted, surely not 500,000 miles, but probably long enough.

  • avatar
    craiger

    I still have a warm place in my heart for these cars. My parents considered buying one in 1983 to replace our ’73 Fleetwood. The price was about $30,000, and my dad loved Benzes like nobody’s business, but they just couldn’t pull the trigger on it. They ended up getting a stupid Delta 88 coupe which spontaneously combusted in our garage some months after we got it, only to be replaced by its tarted-up big sister, the 98 Regency, with even more luxury! I despised those cars and never forgave them for their gross error in judgment.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    In January 2002, I bought a very well used W123 turbodiesel with 210 k miles and a lot of deferred maintenance for the princely sum of $1750. I used this for my 75 mile commute each way to my new job. The Benz was noisy but did vey well on my route that was mostly Interstate driving. I used to see a good number of W123s on my commute back then. Mine suffered a catastrophic engine failure on my way home in 2005 when one of the hoses on the external oil cooler failed and drained the engine of oil before I could figure out that the engine bearings were toast. I ended up donating it to charity. The body and drivetrain were indestructible under normal circumstances.

  • avatar

    Still daily driving one almost just like the one in the picture. ’82 W123 Turbodiesel with 440,236 on the odometer. The driver’s seat on mine has a tear in the side bolster.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    not a big deal. My S-10 has 520K now

  • avatar

    As a matter of fact, where is this car? I’d like to buy the driver’s seat.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    A co-worker still has one of these, same color but his is an 81-82. Too bad his 300SD looks very beat up with washed out front fenders and some OEM but not period correct chrome alloys but mechanically speaking is a tank. He actually daily drives it.
    He’s one of those guys who likes old Benzes and wouldn’t sell his but has other priorities right now.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Highest mileage I have seen was a Crown Victoria taxi. Odometer was showing 469,000 km and there was a sticker in the door jam showing the dealer had replaced the odometer at 712,000km and reset the new odometer to zero.

    A total of 1,181,000 km or 733,839 miles.

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